Diverse Abilities

Gina Martin

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It is called a cane and there are many different types

A photo of 11 canes. One support, one telescopic, 2 Ambuteck folding canes (different lengths and tips) 2 NFB folding and  2 NFB straight cane, Commander cane, Bob Riley cane,  ID cane1) A white cane signifies that the person using it has low to no vision. Only 15% of people who use a white caneor a guide dog are totally blind, the rest of us have varying degrees of vision, but our vision isn’t reliable.  

2) Most of us call our cane what it is -- a cane. If someone using a white cane calls it a stick or a pole, then you know that’s their preferred name for it. Please avoid calling it a stick or pole unless you’re very familiar withthe person. Our cane is our mobility device, and we use it as an extension of ourselves.  A cane represents freedom and independence to those of us using it. 

3) No need to avoid common language when speaking to people with disabilities. The words see, look, or watch are totally ok when speaking to those of us with low to no vision. These words do not make us uncomfortable because we do see, look, and watch -- only we do it differently than someone without vision loss. If someone tells you they do not like those words, then you know for that person. 

4) If you feel we may be in danger, yelling “Look out!” or “Watch out!” is not helpful. We can’t see what to be looking out for or watching out for.  Be specific to be helpful: “Hey lady using the white cane STOP there is anelectric car approaching quickly on your right!”

5) NEVER grab, touch, jump over, or move someone’s white cane. That presents a safety hazard to us.

6) NEVER grab, pull, or push someone who is blind or partially sighted. No one appreciates being grabbed or touched by strangers. As we visually cannot see your intention, it can be terrifying for us.  Just use words. 

7) Never wave your hand or hold up fingers in front of our face to test if we’re “really blind.” It is rude and disrespectful.

8) The terms low vision, partially sighted, legally blind, or blind are preferred. Avoid the term “visually impaired” as “impaired” implies a negative.  Language is a powerful tool, and we can lift each other up or knock each other down with our choice of words. If you meet someone and they tell you that they prefer that term, then you know for that person.

9) Please be accurate and specific when giving us directions. Example: “Walk about 30 feet in the direction you are facing and turn right before crossing the street” rather than “Walk that way and turn right at the bank.” Youmay be surprised at how many well-intentioned people tell us to turn right when they meant turn left. 

10) Say “Hello.” We take your verbal hello as that nod, smile, or gestured acknowledgment that strangers give to each other frequently throughout the day. When you say hello, it alerts us to your presence and opens the opportunity for us to ask for help if we need it. Also, with that hello, you’ve treated us like everyone else and that is all anyone ever wants. 

11) Most of us have had mobility training and are capable of navigating life, only we need to do it differently because our eyeballs do not work or work very well. Just say hello, and if we need help, we will ask. 

Ambuteck folding caneNo two people experiencing sight loss or blindness experience it in the same way. Not all of us need or require help. We are all unique individuals, so if you are curious about someone, please just ask the person you are curious about so you gain accurate information about that person. 

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